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Anti-abortion group visits Georgia in “campus tour”

Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization, visits Georgia State during their campus tour across Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Photo by Ada Wood | The Signal

Unity Plaza was lined with graphic, bloody images of dismembered fetuses on Nov. 6 as students walked past on their way to class, gathered for lunch and shopped at the pop-up shops steps away.

Created Equal, a pro-life education and outreach organization based in Columbus, Ohio, is behind the project.

In a “campus tour,” the organization will be visiting over a dozen college campuses and several high schools and abortion facilities in three states. After visiting Texas and Michigan, they’ve landed at their last stop: Georgia.

From Nov. 4 to Nov. 8, the organization planned to visit Georgia State’s campus along with Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and the University of Georgia.

Created Equal was founded by its president Mark Harrington in 2011 after his work with another organization, the Center for Bioethical Reform, which also did advocacy projects on college campuses.

The politics and culture of abortion

Harrington says these states were intentionally chosen because they are large battleground states — something he says Georgia is increasingly leaning toward.

Wake Forest University

“Although we aren’t political in the sense that we don’t advocate for or against candidates, we want to go where it matters most,” Harrington said.

While their end goal is for abortion to be entirely illegal, Harrington believes this may take years — even decades — to accomplish.

“Before it becomes illegal, it must first become unthinkable,” he said. “The culture has to change; it all changes in the hearts and minds of Americans … Eventually, they will vote consistent of that.”

Visiting Georgia colleges serves two purposes: reaching their desired demographic and continuing the discussion that has already begun.

Harrington said the college campus demographic is where America’s future leaders reside and where the majority of abortions occur.

 Of all abortion patients in 2014, 61% were between the ages of 20 and 29, acccording to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies and promotes sexual and reproductive health rights, including abortion trends.

This year, Georgia has been wrapped up in political debate about abortion over HB 481 which was introduced in February, passed in March and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in May. 

The bill — since dubbed the “heartbeat bill” — prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which occurs between six to eight weeks. 

This law would have become active this upcoming January if it weren’t for the temporary block placed on it by a federal judge early last month.

“We go to where the issue is being debated most, and Georgia is one of those places,” Harrington said.

The university and student response

On Nov. 1, the university sent a campus broadcast to students, informing them that they expected “there to be speakers on campus who may express controversial views.”

The university outlined that even if the views expressed contradict the values of Georgia State and its community members, it will continue to uphold the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

“You may wonder why your university would allow speech that is hateful or mean-spirited,” the email stated. “However, the university has an important constitutional duty to uphold the free speech rights of all people, without regard to the content of their speech.”

Harrington was aware of the email and said it’s not uncommon for universities to send out what they call “trigger warnings,” letting students know in advance that they would be on their campus.

It is extremely uncommon, however, for an administration to “interject their own personal bias, which is what they did,” he said.

“I’m always curious as to whether they do that for everyone or not, if they single out anti-abortion groups or Christian groups,” Harrington said. “Because it can poison the well, it may not be their intent, but [it can] when they use words like ‘hateful’ or ‘mean-spirited.’” 

Harrington said that this doesn’t serve the purpose of free speech, even if that’s what the university says they stand for.

“I just think that’s over-the-top, completely biased, content-based discrimination against our viewpoint,” he said. “Let the students come to their own conclusions.”

Andrea Jones, spokesperson for the university, said this message was not crafted directly for Created Equal’s appearance on campus.

“It’s standard language that was drafted for outside speakers that engage students, not any one particular group,” she said. “This organization was not mentioned in the email.”

She noted this language is also implemented on the Dean of Students website, including in a video uploaded on Nov. 4. 

The day of the event, a table hosted by the Georgia State Counseling Center was placed facing the display, where “No Hate at State” handheld fans were available for students. 

Information on free speech and reminders to respond respectfully and not to engage physically were placed on the back. Contact information for the Dean of Students, the Counseling Center and the Multicultural Center was also provided.

“These are for students to be able to let the people here know there is ‘no hate at State,’” Dr. Chrisanne Mayer, coordinator of urgent care and suicide prevention at the Counseling Center, said. “Sometimes, it is very upsetting.”

Following this, Harrington responded that the “university has doubled down on the ‘warning’ email message and have deployed tax-funded, salaried, paid protesters today at our display.”

He noted Jill Lee-Barber, senior director for Psychological and Health Services and Mikyta Daugherty, associate director for Clinical Services, were in attendance.

“When Georgia State administrators’ salaries are paid by state tax dollars, they are required to remain content-neutral and unbiased when it comes to protected First Amendment free speech activities on campus,” Harrington said. “Today, administrators protested Created Equal and blocked our signs demonstrating that GSA [sic] not only doesn’t support free expression, they oppose it. This illustrates how universities are no longer a marketplace of ideas, but ideological indoctrination centers.” 

Harrington said they would be filing a complaint with the University’s president, Mark Becker.

Jones said the act of handing out free speech information is meant to encourage civil discourse.

“The ‘No Hate at State’ language on the fan means to keep the conversation civil (not that speakers or the content of their speech is hateful),” Jones said. “Created Equal was allowed to fully exercise their right to conduct speech activities, subject only to Georgia State’s reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Jones outlined that the university’s planning for speech events includes providing both security personnel and representatives from the Dean of Students and the Counseling Center to hand out free speech information and to respond to student concerns.

Student Government Association University-wide President Jazmin Mejia issued a statement to The Signal about Created Equal’s presence on campus.

“The Free Speech Area has left many students unnerved about the content which demonstrators have shown today and in the past,” Mejia said. “Though we may not agree with the ideas of these groups, the University cannot remove individuals based only on content.”

She encouraged students who feel uneasy to take advantage of university health resources.

“They are only here to gain attention and possible lawsuits against the University,” Mejia said. “I, and many of the senators, have spread this information to students and have told them to not interact with them in order to discourage their return.”